tv QA Q A with Amity Shlaes CSPAN April 14, 2019 9:00am-10:00am EDT
chief executives, provides insight into the lives of the 44 american presidents. true stories gathered by interviews with noted presidential historians. explore the life events that shaped our leaders, challenges they faced in the legacies that had left behind. published by public affairs, c-span's presidents will be on shelves april 23 but you can preorder your copy of the hardcover or e-book today at c-span.org/thepresidents, or wherever books are sold. >> amity shlaes wonders whether america would elect a man as present today nearly 100 years after sir. that's what she told us an interview on her biography of the 30th president, and we use that conversation as as a basir a chapter on calvin coolidge in c-span's latest book the presidents. c-span: amity shlaes, author of
coolidge, when did you first get interested in this president? >> guest: i was writing my recent book "forgotten man" and everything was broken. "forgotten man" is a book about the '30s and how the economy was broken and i thought what happened before? there was a time when it was fixed, and that was the 20s and that was calvin coolidge. i thought this is the prequel. i've got to go back and figure out what went right in the 20s c-span: before you do that, talk about him. i mean, if you read about him today, i guess a first question, could he be elected today? >> guest: i think so. that's really the challenge of the book, whether we can choose someone who is as principal as he is as president. he did not believe, coolidge, who was president from 23-29, that perception is reality. he thought principal is reality. reality is reality. the challenge for us often is we just have some news good-looking
and speaks well, good salesman, or can with someone who's got principles? i do think we can. we can odysseus ourselves generally that we need looks alone, perception alone c-span: who did he put himself around? >> guest: very important question. coolidge came into office something vice president. unfortunately the president warren harding died such as a cabinet there, and some of them are compromised. we remember harding was a time of scandal. do you keep them? the modern position might be a political vices would say clean sweep, right? get them out so you will have the parents of integrity. but coolidge also prized respect for harding. those people were not condemned yet, innocent until proven guilty, and continuity for the sake of the people and market. so we kept the cabinet for a while. eventually some people left. dougherty, you see the secretary of the interior left.
the figures who are compromised in the harding administration eventually left, and coolidge did have an investigation. he named a bipartisan team is very modern to look into corruption in the harding administration but he thought first of continuity when he became president that moment in august 1923 c-span: who was his secretary of the treasury? >> guest: that was the same guy. that would be andrew mellon who was his and hardens before him and hoover's after. mallon was quick figure like alan greenspan today or ben bernanke, though his treasury secretary get it was said of mellon that three presidents served under him c-span: how does that relate to the mellon name that we know now, that mellon bank? >> guest: who was mellon? mellon was a very wealthy man. he made much of his money. he created an empire in pittsburgh of steel, aluminum, mellon was also what my call a venture capitalist.
he would give a man money if a man had a good idea, see what happened, maybe in and selfies share when men succeeded but sometimes he died in. sometimes he didn't but he loved new ideas. he cratered ale institute to generate patents. very production oriented, , not just what we say a rent seeker. not to some about what other people had and held onto it like a monopoly. so mellon came to this job, the job of treasury secretary, with a wealth of experience from the private sector and a few convictions, and his best partner among the presidents, i believe david kendall dean, the malabar cover would say this,, too, was coolidge who understood mellon. he knew how to work with offending. it wasn't all about calvin c-span: he died at age 60 h-60t after he got out of the presidency. what happened, what was his health like? >> guest: a lot of them did.
i think we are blessed with the angiogram are blessed with statins. min now know exactly how well the heart is doing and it's pretty clear yet something cardio going on. you seem indict all the time in politics and especially in the presidency. harding died essentially from -- coolidge said harding was tired out, or himself out. his predecessor wilson had the terrible stroke and never really recovered. so the to the preceding presidents have been killed. coolidge was proud he made it out of think he was aware of the extent to which his heart was bad until the end, that something was really wrong c-span: we've got some video that was spoken by calvin coolidge at the white house. it may been the first video of a president speaking. let's watch the people see what he sounded like and looked like. >> i want the people of america to be able to work less for the government and more for themselves. i want them to have the rewards of their own industry.
this is the chief meaning of freedom. until we can reestablish a condition under which the earnings of the people can be kept by the people, we are bound to suffer a very severe and distinct curtailment of our liberty c-span: again, forget the principles that he had but no teleprompter, reading off a piece of paper, somewhat halting, high voice, i'll bet -- do think you can make it in television age? >> guest: i i do. he actually, they wonder that about -- of course the new technology was radio and it turned out radio was a blessing for them because you love it of wire in his voice and it cut through, apparently a very good radio voice. he thought he was on radio there, and you read as though on radio, but his personality comes
through. i don't think we should condemn people if they don't appear to us telegenic. c-span: the chapter that i thought was most illuminating about him as a person was, and i'm not sure that you pronounce it this way, the oden? what is the chapter? >> guest: when you get to college, the outsider, that's greek, he happened to go to amherst college, very interesting college. it had a motto, let them illuminate the earth. basically a college for ministers or future ministers, generally congregationalists, although there are other denominations there in massachusetts. coolidge went down there and at the time he went down there, it was a greek school. i greek i mean it had a lot of fraternities. fraternities were all over most kids were in them. what's interesting about calvin, and visit all the way through his life, true, brian, it didn't
seem like he is going to make it. he got there. he thought he should be in a fraternity. he wrote his father can we have a letter saying something about that before he got there, and then he wasn't chosen. so imagine being in a a very gk school with boys richer than you and being kind ishak, he wasn't chosen, and i think this is partly, we think of this when we see our families, he wasn't sure he wanted to be chosen. he wasn't sure he wanted to give up that much of himself to a group. it's always nice to be asked, and he was quite disappointed i think when he wasn't asked. there's an interesting story. there was another boy at amherst at the time called the white who is actually poor and calvin. may be shorter had a little physical disability but dwight was happy for and much loved and waiting to a fraternity, coach knew him. they ate lunch together once in a while. apparently dwight blackballed coolidge for fraternity when
coolidge was going to come in. we have a letter that dwight said not him, , i'll take the other one. dwight was one of those friends we have who thinks it over and changes his mind and has great regret. dwight decided he had underrated calvin, and that dwight was dwight morrow who then went to law school, became a big partner at j.p. morgan. in fact, when j.p. morgan was kind of down, dwight like underdogs, and eventually calvin as president, said dwight to patch it up with mexico in a a terrible typist dwight was our ambassador there, and he had a daughter called and moral and coolidge sit down charles lindbergh to chip the mexicans, to bring some comedy to the place and that is how and morrow lindbergh became and morrow lindbergh. a lot of history can out of that very sort of understood, look the sad to begin of undergraduate life at amherst for calvin coolidge c-span: when
you read about and of personality, it defies logic that this meant the do-nothing president of the united states. because, called oddball, , silet cal. how silent was he? >> guest: very silent. we many stories. there's a famous story of calvin were a lady said, i bet i could get you to say was into words at this dinner, mr. sir. 80 was vice president. rice coach told the story from his wife. and he said, you lose. c-span: was at dorothy parker? >> guest: i don't think so. dorothy parker said when he died, who could tell, a very mean comet, i don't want to say, if you go back and look at coolidge, he was a conservative hero and his tax rate was a gold standard tax rate that we saw in the video, 25% was what he got the top rate down to. he fought like crazy. it started remember with wilson
in the '70s. so that was an epic battle. when you look to what of the socialite said about coolidge in washington, how cold it was, he wouldn't meet with them, you would remember everybody also from families that endorsed different policies, especially alice roosevelt longworth whose father had a different model of president. tr was a let's get them chemical active, bully pulpit presidents. he was coolidge, not getting offenders. she said he look sop been weaned on the pickle. his silence was coulter. from england. farmers don't talk a lot away their arms about because a cow might kick in. and it was temperamental of temperament. he was a shy person but it also had a political purpose. he knew if he didn't talk a lot people would stop talking and, of course, the president or political leader it's constantly bombarded with requests. his silence was his way of not
giving in to special interest, and the articulated the quite explicitly. tremor go back again to the college experience. he said he liked, he learned to like to speak. how did that come in and did he ever get into a fraternity? >> guest: he got in a fraternity at the end, at the very end, senior year and is a new one on campus. he was proud picky about his father the letters to his father are beautiful, calvin coolidge memorial foundation publish them and are hard to find. i hope we can publish them again. he wrote his father, i have to have been. all through his life you see them riding his father who wasn't at all rich but wasn't totally poor, an important person in his little town. i need to overcook i need this. it was very late, last term basically, senior year that coolidge got in. i think his classmates, amherst is a small small, small call sd it was then, rector there
something in him when he began to speak. i want to say this is interesting but education. there is great emphasis on rhetoric in education so the kids had to speak a lot. they began to hear and had a teacher he loved very much, charles garman. a lot of us like garman and dwight like garman. he began to friends that yahoo! was in the club, the club of this particular lecture called carmen, lecture and similar, and spoke in class and the the boy said wait a minute, it's a new man. we don't recognize him. wait a minute, how can we didn't know your freshman year, sophomore year? we messed up. in a wonderful way you can redirect someone in a classroom. c-span: i've got a picture want to show you. it's not and your book. this is a picture from the courthouse yard area in northampton new hampshire where he lived. on the screen there, this has every job he's ever had on the
statute have you ever seen it? >> guest: i don't think so. trade what i want to read so we go back and talk about this because us to want to know what you think he got -- fusible board and plymouth vermont in 18 said to, graduate of amherst 1895, admitted to messages of our 97. 98, 1890, city council, council, northampton. 1901, city solicitor, like or six state represented, massachusetts. mayor of the city 1911. i've never seen anything quite like there were some who said that many jobs leading up to president. >> guest: and he almost never lost. he told someone come have a
hobby. my hobby is politic. running for office is my hobby. one thing was a republican party and the democratic party were different, and it was a path if you help the elders, they helped you. he was in the party. it was a club. it wasn't to be entirely look down upon the wave we learned in school. even the progresses safety climbed the greasy pole of massachusetts politics. there was some good in the party. the party trained to pick it up to work efficiently. it's also his incredible personal perseverance, and that's what i try to get at in the chapter about his type and northampton -esque juices. that was the county seat. after college he looked around and couldn't really afford law school, and bug his father about it. he couldn't afford so we went to read the law the way they did then. you could clerk and passed the bar that went with the firm of two and who like amherst and
good vendor and were important lawyers in town. he learned about his county seat. why don't i just tried this, whereas dwight his friend went to law school and then went to an important sort of wall street bank, law from and that the bank. this was the old way that thomas jefferson kind of way of serving in the country, don't be a city doll. that's one of the things they read in college. he was good to the party. the party was good to be. he learned pragmatism. he practiced law on and off the whole time. he was very careful not to be corrupt. one of the issues of this youth, and remember his youth is the progressive republican party was looking at it and you can see a progressive record in coolidge, whether he's a state lawmaker, let's did this about milt komori worked on busting trust in theaters, if you can imagine. they saw trust as you and the progressive era. the hero of that eric was theodore roosevelt. he's thinking is this a good policy or not, but progressives do, hate the big, fight the big,
reform government and cleaned up. he had to work in it but he was often assigned to clean up government, to shut and offices. he evaluating this whole time. what to mention he had a mentor who is also silent. i could did know this and i beo research in massachusetts at the forbes library for much of his material is. that was called w murray crane, senator crapo helped tr with coal strikes. crane was of the crane paper company. he was a businessman and the crane paper company, something called government, printed the dollar. in a very interesting way, crane knew about the u.s. economy through the dollar, to how much he printed. crane was silent, rarely spoke. he was the worcester, massachusetts, leader versus the boston leader in massachusetts politics, and that was his
mentor. , how much of the crash of 29, 1929 could be blamed on coolidge? he left in, what, march -- ? >> guest: imagine the stock market, look at this wacky, the stock market was 100 for a long time. then it went up to 200, very high. cool szczecin a lot of recessions. it doubled. that's like our '90s, for example, also after was with napoleon is a look in use incredible doublings. then he went to 381. that would be september 29. coolidge didn't approve of that. getting a lot of recessions. he spent a lot of his life with the stock market at 100 below. he just didn't believe those the job of the chief executive to intervene. it was the state of new york within your stock exchange was, was that the dow jones industrl come he knew the owner of the
"wall street journal," dow jones clarence bayern but he didn't think the president of the treasury secretary was in charge of it. remember, the fed was also against a look into it. the record and looking into. another amherst man charles merrill kind of what we would call merrill lynch and merrill would seem and they would talk about it. coolidge was terrified because he is so conservative any new what a crash was, but he didn't see it as the president's role and neither did merrill. that would be a state authority. another factor was what that policy was and we all know benjamin strong, the great fed leader.com another fed had came and maybe the fed was to lose and that's an important discussion, but i don't blame this on coolidge in the lease. one of the important fact is you is look at is was the growth real or "the great gatsby" is coming out now, or was all champagne and a lie?
the growth was real. most of it was real. the stock market went to high and people should have bought on margin but he was not a light of the decade, , which is something we learned in school. that must be revised and this is an effort to do that revision, to expose the true 20s. c-span: when did you first start being interest in calvin coolidge, do you remember the time? >> guest: in "the forgotten man," fisher the 1930s i wrote about, it's about how good became it started with herbert hoover and messed it up. messed up something good. beyond -- roosevelt followed with even bigger and more arbiter government. so i thought what was it they messed up? i had to go back and right and you beginning to "forgotten man" and show what it was that was lost in order to show the extent of the loss. i thought this is very interesting. the economics of the 20 so we discussed in that much, we can think they were.
historians depicted as like him great gatsby, prohibition, economist can you say that growth is in rustic and real. most of. we talk about, for example, rca, radio corp. was discarded some of the, the crash of the stock is a big lie, just a bubble. the radio corp. had an interesting invention on its mind, what we would now call television better turn out to be profit much later. looking economics. sometimes markets overshoot when you're anticipating productivity gains. the markets of the 20s were really interesting, look at it from point of view, the government, the single thing that coolidge did we want to remember is when he left office, the budget was lower than when he came in. that's the story for us now in a time where we are concerned. how did he do that? the economy grew a lot. may be more than 3%.
unemployment was below 5%. the budget was balanced due to his own parsimony. how did he manage them to make the budget go lower and how did that help the economy? a lot, because he got the government out of the way of the economy. 34 to the way we talk about the economy now. c-span: do number how big the budget was then? >> guest: depends on how you count up with what candidate was about 3 billion. then it would be less than 5% of u.s. economy, and he was going to get it down to 3 billion and that was his holy grail. the reason this book is so long is the middle section of the book is about his effort with another new englander who was general lord from maine to cut the budget. they didn't just cut the tax rates. they cut the budget, and this is different from our modern supply-siders who tend to put the tax rates first. coolidge always twinned them and
you see a photo somewhat of two lion cubs he had, some gave him the lion cubs turkeys did you can't just cut taxes. you have to cut budget. those lion cubs were named budget bureau and tax reduction. c-span: where did they reside? >> guest: in the zoo. the coolidge is loved and lost but they said a lot of them to the zoo. , we'll come back to calvin coolidge in a minute but let's go back to the amity shlaes story. where did you grow up straighter on from chicago. c-span: where did you go to college? >> guest: yale college. c-span: . c-span: when you first came to us and i think 1990 or so, you appeared on this network, you were back from germany. how long did you spent in germany? >> guest: i spent a few years in germany. i had a fellowship at a college in germany i got to do some journalism and then a joint the "wall street journal." i'm interested in germany now. i'm interested in eastern
europe, what we used to call eastern europe, and the future of democracy and freedom there and all they have achieved and what happened. my first work was in germany because i'd studied german and it worked as as a journalist ad wrote a book about germany, the empire within, about the conception who they were around the time of german unification. i want to show you yourself trenches that's not very kind. c-span: here you are. >> i think the country will do fine. right now, people say that it will be a big curve after reunification because of all the troubles that they had come and i would say they're going to be at the bottom of the curve this year. within five, maybe ten years germany will have consolidated, it will be a stronger country for the reunification, but they're going through a true recession now. c-span: how did you do then?
>> guest: they did fine. they did better than we thought. i'm wondering now if germany will come out of the euro. germany is touting the model for future economy. germany is being like calvin close because germany is the savior country appear. the question is how much can it do to save greece, to help the spenders. c-span: from that time, 1990, or life is changed dramatically. you dedicate this book to eli, ceo, floor and helen. who are they? >> guest: those are my children, my format shown with my husband, seth lipsky, the journalist and editor. our oldest son goes to the university of texas. our second son is a cadet at west point. we have a daughter who is in high school, and helen is in, let's see, sixth grade. c-span: you've been fairly visible working trenches that's
right. on the colonists. c-span: where do you write? >> guest: i write for bloomberg. c-span: how often? >> guest: it's a regular column. i'd say it's less regular now because of various bombs but i been a columnist for ten years. before that with the financial times. c-span: council on foreign relations. are you still with them? >> guest: i am not within. i was a fellow in political economy or in economic history i think for years, and i've recently moved over to a new foundation, present bush 43 foundation, which is going to be wonderful. i'm interested in presidential history now. president bush is wonderful man, a great leader and an enormous archive attached to the new bush center in dallas. i like the history and wanted to learn a bit about come at a presidential sin and to work on economics. i am in a program called the 4%
growth program which is put economic growth. coolidge had it but what's that mr., what was it? let's think about it, and the 4% growth project looks at different ways you can get stronger growth. we'll know that stronger growth makes everything easier, including the entitlement problem. c-span: still teach at newark university? >> guest: yes. i teach "the forgotten man" in the 1930s which is her controversial so that's fun. is it right, is a wrong? c-span: if we followed you around the last two years studying calvin coolidge, where would we find you? >> guest: that's important sekar, trustee of the calvin coolidge memorial foundation which is a great entity, and if you want to know coolidge, you go to plymouth notch where he's from, vermont. it's a beautiful village, well preserved. the foundation is there. the state is there. the state archivist mr. ginny. we have our own foundation what we do some education. we have some material and, in
fact, this summer with the bush center were hosting a high school economic debate, how perfect for coolidge, around the time that the anniversary of his midnight sworn in by his father in early august. a lot of young debaters will come from a dartmouth clinic over and debate at the coolidge place. once you been to plymouth notch ec assembles background was. his father wrote them down a road ten miles bumpy roads, snow, freezing, slays to get into high school. what he overcame to become president. i want to mention some of the coolest places. be on the forbes library and northampton massachusetts which has been a great partner for me help me. there's also the for mark archive what were many of the coolidge family papers can be found, well taken care of. i encourage you to visit there, to any coolidge scholar. c-span: i want ask a question something in the acknowledgments and what you think calvin
coolidge was so frugal personally would think. you got a grant from the national endowment for the humanities trenches he would be ambivalent about that. you can see the -- he didn't really like federal mining to be spent on culture. once in a while he would do it and he would -- he said in his own -- president coolidge doesn't have a presidential library with a staff, funded by washington the way roosevelt would have or hoover would have or that president bush have. he was all-time. it's a wonderful story, also above for for his wife. at that time he thought oppression should raise his money for himself, all of it. he loved his wife very much, grace, and she sacrificed a lot. she was originally a teacher of the death at the clark school in massachusetts. he told his friend, raising money from afterwards and he said anything calvin.
he was very close to the "wall street journal." this is a "wall street journal." anything, calvin. i'll raise money and everyone thought it should be for the coolidge archive, right? he wanted to be at a local library, the forbes library where he studied reading the law and named after another state, this judge forwards, a legendary figure in northampton. calvin said no. .. >> a.
coolidge is mecca. >> where is the foundation? >> it's his place you go to, it changes people's lives when you see these houses, you drive north to vermont where there's a little ski resort on the big road, it's not hard to get to, not much further than say brattleboro or like that. you drive up and you'll see something amazing. you can stay at one of those resorts like oxycontin or the bed and breakfast, not far from dartmouth college. not vermont and its pickle and it will change your life and your children's if you see it, you can see the room upstairs where she works. you can see the church where one of his ancestors brought a puke and got very involved with the home records, the glitches were allergic to that. this is the story of how you overcome death as a country or an individual and we found therewas this one ancestor
who was a debtor, that's what the book opens with . this was, their economics, their business, the small farms were so important in their lives . so you can just have a feel for how hard it was to remember in that time. >> we've got video from a program in 1999 and his son john was still alive. he's very old in this, how old was he when he died? he was 90, i know that andnot so long ago they were talking he was born around 1906 . >> let's watch this and you have to listen carefully but he's talking about his brother calvin and i want to get that story from you. >> you mentioned yourbrother having dinner . do you have any fond memories of him you'd like to relate? >> we were always together.
we were always together. he was a fine boy, i had trouble keeping up with him in school. he was a scholar but he was quiet. wouldn't always join in some of this things that i did . he wasn't interested in baseball which i was. >> so the impact of junior on the coolidge presidency? >> it's like a lincoln story, it's an amazing tragedy. calvin junior was about 15 and he got a blister on the tennis court of the white house and the blister went septic and he died within about a week.
if you can imagine from a blister to death just before antibiotics came in . what a story and there was nothing they could do about it. coolidge had lost his sister, his mother and now he was losing calvin was the luck child of the family. as you can see, from a happy guy, very clever, extremely loyal and he didn't know what to do. i think other historians have told the story of the death of calvin at the end of the coolidge presidency. this is in 1924, he was elected that year on his own. they say he was depressed for the next four years so the book deals with that thesis, i don't see that. it's not a story of yes, but the death of calvin is but yes, he persevered. almost no one could understand the life of their family and you see a lot of sorrow and anger and trouble.
he took a tree from the lime kiln lot of his family and they planted it somewhere around the white house. i've not been able to discern what happened to that tree, i'm not sure. you can't always take a spruce and replanted in washington but can you imagine they planted it so they could look out thewindow and see where calvin had been and the president himself said the joy of the presidency went out for me . i see him pursuing in a grand campaign is civil war was the tax campaign, he poured his energy into that instead and did prevail in 1926. one the presidency, can you imagine your son dies and you win in 1924 as president eating the third-party, the progressive party and the democrats combined.
the republicans had the absolute majority in 24 even though a lot of the progressives were former republicans. he was tremendously popular because of his perseverance in part. but this story of calvin, it just came over them and you can see after the presidency misses coolidge felt free to write about calvin which she hadn't been and they didn't go out in sorrow about their child publicly, they were very reserved people but afterwards there's a poem that we have that she wrote again, of course it changed their life forever. calvin said calvin was the child but i want to give credit to john for opening the window to calvin so lovingly, not competing. calvin said when he workedin the tobacco field , they said if my dad were vice president, i wouldn't work in any tobacco field in massachusetts , calvin said if you're a dad, or my daddy
would coolidge just wanted their kids to work . the coolidge is emphasized virtue and what a contrast, it's a big contrast from the roosevelt where the kids ran around the house a lot and made a lot of noise and it was fun. you could see the servants were a bit rambunctious. in the white house the roosevelt's and coolidge's were rigid with their kids about behaving in the white house in a kind of joyless way from time to time. coolidge was hard on john who went to amherst and the lloyd point of his life are the letters to john where he berates john or notperforming well in college . so every tragedy like the loss of a child as an effect. they suffered from the loss of calvin, but they did persevere and what i like about john, i wish i had known was he was so good about preserving his father's legacy. he understood and he was a
wonderful man in that way. with incredible empathy and for example the cheese factory in plymouth notch which was the president's father , they wanted to make money from dairy. it's always a struggle. they had achieved factory because fordurations, she cheese was the way you transmitted protein .john started that again. as a symbol of what it had meant to be a struggling farmer. and it was important to coolidge as he always vetoed agriculture of city farmers and they never had made much money but he said that that didn't meanhe didn't understand how hard it was to be a farmer . >> so working for george w. bush, for his foundation. , how do you line up the fact that he had a $5 trillion edition?
>> these are questions we have to ask a lot of presidents and i am historically economically and oriented person and i see that war cost a lot of money. it was to say that first of all. but one of the splendid things about george w. bush, is he had these great big spirit so if i came up to the president and i don't report to him, as the real foundation doing work in many areas, touring cervical cancer and in africa. and said president bush, you were wrong about medicare part b. he would say, maybe i was. or maybe he would say i wasn't wrong but he had no trouble creating an intellectual home for people with different ideas who might say something that might not be totally where he was or flatter him. he and that was very much like coolidge. the is not a main man, president bush. he wants to serve andthere's a connection there . with both bushes and
coolidge. it's their sense of service, theirspiritual side. i would say their piety . they know that it's an office and i see in president bush to every little vanity about the foundation. that's why coolidge after coolidge was out of office it wasn't abouthim . and that's incredibly hard to do once you've beenthe most important person in the world , you've got to say we all know that person. once you've been on television on your life very few people are not afterwards. so how do you overcome that? and suppressed vanity and this preoccupied president bush. >> let me make another connection, vice president bush became president in many people's eyes because he was vice president